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Barbara Marie OPEL





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: She paid five teenagers, including her own 13 year old daughter, to murder her boss
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 13, 2001
Date of birth: 1963
Victim profile: Jerry Duane Heimann, 64
Method of murder: Beating with baseball bats - Stabbing with knifes
Location: Snohomish County, Washington, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on April 24, 2003
photo gallery

Barbara Opel was convicted of murdering a 64 year old man with terminal cancer in 2001. She is currently serving a life sentence, with no prospect of parole.


Opel was living with Jerry Duane Heiman, aged 64 and his 89 year old mother, whom she cared for. In order to steal $40,000, she paid five teenagers, including her own 13 year old daughter, to murder Heiman. Her other children, aged 7 and 11, were instructed by her to help mop up his blood. Kyle Boston, aged 14, received $220, whilst his 13 year old cousin was paid roughly $100, for the killing. 17 year old Jeffrey Grote was given a car.

On April 13, 2001, the five teenagers ambushed Heiman and attacked him with knives and baseball bats. He was found 8 days later, in a shallow grave, roughly ten miles from his house.


Opel was found guilty and was narrowly spared the death penalty, as the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. Following her conviction she was banned from any contact with her children, or being in the same prison as them.

Her daughter Heather, received a 22 year prison sentence, with no possibility of parole, at the age of 14.

Kyle Boston was sentenced to 18 years, after pleading guilty to second degree murder. His unnamed cousin was tried as a juvenile and will be released at the age of 21.

Jeffrey Grote (Heather Opel's boyfriend at the time of the attack), pleaded guilty to first degree murder and received a 50 year prison sentence.

Marriam Oliver received a 22 year prison sentence.



  • Barbara Opel – convicted, sentenced to LWOP

  • Heather Opel, 14 – convicted, sentenced to 22 years in prison

  • Marriam Diane Oliver, 14 – convicted, sentenced to 22 years in prison

  • Jeff Grote, 17 – pled guilty, sentenced to 50 years in prison

  • Kyle Boston, 14 – pled guilty, sentenced to 18 years in prison

  • Boston’s cousin, 13 – tried as a juvenile, held in juvenile prison til he is 21


She made them killers

BY David J. Krajicek -

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jerry Heimann died mystified.

He was set upon by a group of teenagers who ambushed him as he stepped into his home in Everett, Wash., on the evening of April 13, 2001.

One youth cracked him on the head with an aluminum bat. A sickening "ping" rang out, and the man crumpled to the floor.

"Who are you?" Heimann, 64, implored. "What do you want?"

The man begged for mercy but got none.

As the first teen delivered crushing blows with the big bat, two other youths flailed away at Heimann with miniature bats - souvenirs from the Seattle Mariners.

The assault became a bestial frenzy when two teen girls with a 10-inch kitchen knife joined in. They took turns with the knife until Heimann was dead.

The teens then swabbed the floor, heaved the body into a car and dumped the remains beside a road at the edge of Everett.

On the day after Heimann was killed, a 38-year-old Everett woman used his checkbook to rent a truck, which she packed with the dead man's valuables.

The woman, Barbara Opel, didn't get far.

Soon after identifying the body, detectives unraveled a scheme of staggering implausibility. The murder, police determined, had been planned by Opel's untidy mind.

Victim hired his killer

Jerry Heimann should have been a godsend for the overweight, brash mother of three.

A Boeing retiree, he hired Opel in the fall of 2000 to care for his mother, 89, afflicted with advanced Alzheimer's.

Opel and her children - Heather, 13; an 11-year-old son; and a 7-year-old daughter - had been living like gypsies for years. Welfare authorities said they had lived in 22 places in seven years, including their car. They had been evicted from 10 apartments for nonpayment of rent.

Heimann gave the family stability, allowing Opel and her children to live on the ground floor of his Everett home while he lived upstairs with his mother.

The abrasive Opel frequently picked fights with Heimann. Yet he put his trust in the woman, allowing her to write checks for household expenses.

Given a taste of his prosperity, Opel wanted to gorge herself on the $40,000 in his bank accounts.

Opel's sister described the woman as "brain-dead" to the Seattle Weekly, and she hatched a murder plan that bore out her sibling's blunt assessment.

It hinged on daughter Heather and her friends.

In spite of her mother's itinerant lifestyle, the girl had proven to be smart and motivated. She got high marks and was a very good basketball player.

Her long-term dream was to star in the WNBA. In the short term, she wanted a dirt bike - a running subject of contention between daughter and mother.

A month before the murder, Heather noted in her diary that she might finally get her dirt bike. She wrote, "So my mom said if I helped kill Jerry I can go get one."

Barbara Opel promised cash payments and pressed Heather to recruit three adolescent boys and a female friend, Marriam Oliver, 14. They took bats and knives into Heimann's room one night in March 2001 but were too frightened to carry out the plan.

A second hit squad possibility soon materialized.

Five days before the murder, Heather Opel got an adolescent crush on Jeff Grote, a muscular 17-year-old who worked at a local skating rink.

Barbara Opel immediately seized on the opportunity and invited Grote to move into the Heimann house, reserving a private bedroom where Grote and Heather could have sex.

Egged on by Mrs. Opel, Grote agreed to lead a ragtag murder team that included his friend Kyle Boston, 15, and Boston's waiflike cousin, Mike, 13. Heather Opel, 5-foot-4 and 90 pounds, and Marriam Oliver rounded out the group.

The brains of the operation promised Grote a car and cool clothes. The Bostons would get $300. Oliver would get money for skates. Heather would get her dirt bike.

When Heimann arrived home on April 13, Barbara Opel hid in the basement with her younger children as the attack began.

Oliver got squeamish and retreated, but Opel hollered at her, "Get up there and do what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to be Heather's friend. You're supposed to be there for her." The girl complied.

After the murder, Opel treated her team to dinner and accommodations at the Rodeway Inn - all on Heimann's credit card.

Police traced the spending spree to Opel, and her team of teen killers was soon telling all to detectives.

'That was fun!'

The district attorney portrayed the youths as "monsters" who displayed "cold indifference" toward their quarry, and he sought to prosecute them as adults.

For example, prosecutors said that after stabbing Heimann, Heather Opel squealed, "That was fun! I want to do it again!"

Defense attorneys countered the youths - all from broken families - were under sway of the bullying and abusive Barbara Opel.

A judge ruled the hands-on nature of a club and knife attack made them candidates for adult court. The lone exception was Mike Boston, 13, who was sentenced to seven years of juvenile detention.

Grote pleaded guilty and got 50 years. (In an online post for a pen pal, he describes himself as a "easygoing, humorous person" and a "big teddy bear.")

Heather Opel pleaded guilty and was sent away for 22 years. She will be released at age 35 - still young enough, she hopes, to play professional basketball. Oliver and Kyle Boston got similar sentences.

Barbara Opel testified at her own trial in 2003 that it was the teens who wanted Heimann dead. She only wanted him hurt, she claimed.

"I guess I thought that if Jerry got beat up bad he deserved it," she said.

She was convicted, but jurors spared her and sent her away to prison for life without parole.


Opel sentenced to life after heated confrontation

By Matthew Craft - Seattle Post-Intelligencer

April 24, 2003

EVERETT -- Colleen Muller looked the woman who plotted her father's murder in the eyes and told her, "I hope you rot in hell."

The confrontation came as Barbara Opel was formally sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of Jerry Heimann. Prosecutors had asked for the death penalty, but yesterday a jury balked at making Opel the state's first female resident of death row.

Before Judge Gerald Knight sentenced Opel in Snohomish County Superior Court, Muller and her brother, Greg Heimann, lamented their father's death and heaped abuse on Opel, calling her "a monster" and "an evil piece of trash."

Opel lived in Heimann's basement with her three children as a live-in caretaker for his mother. She recruited five teenagers, including her daughter Heather, to kill Heimann in April 2001. The teens beat the 64-year-old man with baseball bats and stabbed him with knives. All five teens have been convicted of murder and sentenced, and Opel was convicted two weeks ago of aggravated first-degree murder.

During the trial, defense attorneys portrayed Heimann as an abusive drunk, which the Heimann family found particularly galling.

Muller said, sure, her father had his quirks. "He liked his beer, hot cars and women," she said. "He liked to go out to the bars. ...But for all of that, he was a good man."

Opel wept as Knight recommended that she have no contact with her three children, including Heather, who will join Opel at the Washington Women's Correctional Center in Gig Harbor once she turns 18. "Your fundamental right of seeing your children is lost when you do to your children what Barbara did to hers," the judge said.

Knight gave Opel life without the possibility of release for the aggravated murder charge, 12 months for abandoning Heimann's mother and five months for theft. Opel declined to speak at her sentencing.


Opel gets life without parole

Jury divided on putting first woman on death row

By Matthew Craft - Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Friday, April 18, 2003

EVERETT -- A jury decided yesterday that inciting five teenagers to murder her boss was not enough to make Barbara Opel the first woman on Washington's death row.

After seven hours of deliberation, the jury couldn't come to a unanimous agreement on a sentence. Seven were swayed by the prosecution's case for the death penalty, while five believed Opel should spend her life in prison.

The deadlock meant that Opel received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As Superior Court Judge Gerald Knight read the jury's decision, Opel whimpered and wrapped her arms around Peter Mazzone, her defense attorney. Mazzone grinned at the jury and wiped tears from his face.

"It's the right result," Mazzone said afterward. "Today is Good Friday, and the theme is life."

Sally Toffic, one of the five women on the jury, said jurors repeatedly listened to the tape of Opel's confession to police and pored over the evidence, but those who wanted life weren't moved.

"We wanted to make sure we didn't leave a single stone unturned," she said. "But we just got to a point where there was no reason to continue on."

Last week, the same jury in Snohomish County Superior Court found Opel guilty of aggravated first-degree murder for hiring five teenagers, including her daughter, Heather, to kill 64-year-old Jerry Heimann two years ago. The teenagers beat Heimann with baseball bats and stabbed him with knives after he walked through his front door. All five have been convicted of murder.

The sentence means that Opel might wind up in the same prison with her daughter. Heather Opel and her best friend, Marriam Oliver, were convicted of first-degree murder in the same case. Once they turn 18, both would join Opel at the Washington Women's Correctional Center in Purdy.

In the courtroom, the Heimann family looked shocked. Mary Lou Cannon, Heimann's ex-wife, crossed her arms and scowled.

Corrections officers led Opel out of the courtroom. Surrounded by news photographers chasing her down the hall, Opel was asked if she had anything to say.

"I want to thank my attorneys, Pete Mazzone and Brian Phillips, for doing a wonderful job," she said.

Throughout the trial, Mazzone and Phillips had worried over their moves and second-guessed their words and witnesses. "And someone's life depended on it," Mazzone said.

To return a death sentence, the jury would have had to unanimously agree that there were no mitigating circumstances. Phillips argued that there were at least five possible reasons to spare her life.

A neuropsychologist and a neuropsychiatrist testified that they believed Opel had impaired brain function. Toffic said some jurors believed that argument and some thought it was "psychobabble."

She didn't find one mitigating circumstance especially convincing. "Everyone had their own reason for voting the way they did," she said. "There were a surprising number of different reasons that people had for their vote."

The case was closely watched because of the possibility that it would send a woman to Washington's death row for the first time.

Eight other women have been convicted of aggravated first-degree murder since the death penalty was reinstated.

But prosecutors sought the death penalty in only one previous case, and that woman got life in prison without parole.

Christine Wintch, an alternate juror who heard all testimony in the Opel case but was not part of the deliberations, said she would have voted for the death penalty.

She said she came to that conclusion when she realized that otherwise Opel would be able to spend much of her life in the same prison with her daughter.

She said many jurors told her the state could have done a better job in the penalty phase of the trial. They also wished they could have heard more about the wishes of Heimann's family, she said.

In the penalty phase, the prosecution is limited to presenting facts of the case, the defendant's criminal record and testimony from victims. Its entire case lasted less than five minutes, while the defense called more than 20 witnesses to argue that Opel's life should be spared.

Prosecutors Chris Dickinson and George Appel said they couldn't imagine arguing any other way.

"The case is what it was," Dickinson said.


'I thought that if Jerry got beat up bad he deserved it'

By Matthew Craft - Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

EVERETT -- Barbara Opel was so fed up with how Jerry Heimann treated her daughter that comments such as "I wish he was dead" became idle chitchat around her family and friends.

But Opel told a jury in Snohomish County Superior Court yesterday that she never planned to have him killed. And even when three boys waited to pummel Jerry Heimann with baseball bats the night of April 13, 2001, she thought they would leave him bruised and battered, not dead.

"I guess I thought that if Jerry got beat up bad he deserved it," she said. "The only thing that had been on my mind was everything the kids and I had been through."

Opel, a 39-year-old mother of three, is accused of recruiting her daughter and four other teenagers to kill Heimann two years ago. Heimann had hired Opel to be a live-in caretaker for his elderly mother. Opel and her children lived on the bottom floor of his house. Heimann lived on the top.

Prosecutors have charged her with aggravated first-degree murder. The motive, they say, was the $40,000 Heimann made from the sale of a house.

If convicted of the charge, she could either be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or face the death penalty. No woman has ever received a death sentence in Washington.

All the teens have been convicted of murder charges.

In directing Opel's testimony, Peter Mazzone, her attorney, attacked the idea that the killing was a murder-for-hire. Mazzone has portrayed his client as someone swept up in an attack that was out of her control. The defense's argument is that principal blame belongs to Jeffrey Grote, then a 17-year-old bouncer at a skating rink who moved in with the Opels a few days after meeting Opel's daughter Heather, then 13.

Prosecutors allege that Opel offered Grote a car if he helped to kill Heimann. Opel's version of the story is that Grote wanted to move in with the Opels. She told him he would have to help her run errands, such as taking the younger children to school. For that, he needed a car. And she had a friend with a used-car dealership in Everett who could help him.

Similarly, prosecutors allege that Barbara Opel took the teenagers on a shopping spree with Heimann's money the week after the murder.

Opel said she used Heimann's credit cards on clothes, food and a place to live. After leaving Heimann's house, she rented one room for herself, her three children and Grote at a Rodeway Inn.

"The man is dead, Barbara," Mazzone said. "What are you doing with his credit cards?"

"I had no way to pay for my kids," she replied, "no way else to get food."

Opel told the jury that she was horrified by the murder. She said that if she knew that Grote and his friends had planned to kill Heimann, she would have kicked him out of the house. But once it happened, she wanted to protect her daughter, who participated in the killing.

Heimann's invalid mother, who witnessed the crime, was found abandoned in the house, eating newspapers.

Mazzone asked if she ever had the chance to explain her side of the story before.

"No," Opel responded. "Not until today and yesterday."

Prosecutors will cross-examine Opel this morning.


Slain man's son is first to testify in Opel trial

By Matthew Craft - Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Thursday, March 20, 2003

EVERETT -- Greg Heimann stepped off the plane from Arkansas and walked around Sea-Tac Airport for three and a half hours, waiting for his father, Jerry, to pick him up.

They hadn't seen each other in five years. And Greg had hoped to persuade his dad to get treatment for cancer.

But by the time his son got to Sea-Tac, Jerry Heimann was dead, beaten and stabbed by a group of teenagers.

Greg Heimann was the first witness to testify yesterday in the trial of Barbara Opel, a 39-year-old mother of three accused of recruiting five teens, including her daughter, to kill Jerry Heimann two years ago.

If Opel, charged with aggravated first-degree murder, is convicted, prosecutors will push for the death penalty. No woman has ever been sentenced to die in Washington state.

In opening statements in Snohomish County Superior Court, prosecutors painted Opel as the mastermind behind the slaying of Heimann in April 2001. Opel was a live-in caretaker for his mother, who had Alzheimer's disease. She and her three children lived downstairs. Jerry Heimann lived on the top floor.

Chris Dickinson, deputy prosecuting attorney, said Opel hatched at least four plots to kill her employer. She solicited near strangers to carry out her plan and, in the end, swayed a group of teens from broken homes to do her bidding.

"She took them in," he said, "partied with them, gave them a place to hang out."

Her motive, prosecutors allege, was the $40,000 Heimann made from selling a house.

"It's all about this," Dickinson said, as he yanked a $20 bill from his jacket and showed it to the jury.

Peter Mazzone, Opel's defense attorney, portrayed his client as a victim of circumstance. He laid the principal blame for the killing on her daughter's boyfriend, Jeffrey Grote, and sketched a picture of Jerry Heimann as ill-tempered and too fond of alcohol.

"He was the type of man who on a daily basis would frequent the bars," Mazzone said. "So he needed someone to take care of his mother."

Grote, he said, wanted "to teach Heimann a lesson," but the beating spiraled out of control.

After waiting at the airport, Gregory Heimann took a shuttle to his father's house in Everett. The lights were off, shades covered the windows and all the doors were locked. He climbed in through a side window and found his grandmother sitting in her wheelchair, shredded pages from a magazine in her mouth. The furniture was missing, except for a couple lawn chairs. The hot tub was running outside. Later he noticed spots of dried blood on the garbage can and the chandelier.

The next day he went looking for his father and, in his search, dropped in at a few bars. In his cross-examination of Heimann, Mazzone made much of this.

"You know that he frequented bars," Mazzone said.

"Yes," Heimann responded, "he loved company."

"I knew he drank a lot," he added. "He'd been drinking all his life. He knew how to handle it."

Heimann's body was found wrapped in sheets on the Tulalip Indian reservation. Acid had been poured on it in an attempt to prevent identification.

The five teens charged with murder, including Grote and Opel's daughter, who was 13 at the time of the slaying, have been convicted. Prosecutors said they will ask three of them to testify against Opel.

If Opel is convicted, it will be up to the jury to decide on her sentence in a separate penalty phase of the trial. A death sentence has to be unanimous; otherwise, she would be sentenced to life in prison.


Murder shapes a teenager's fate

By M.L. Lyke, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter

Thursday, August 15, 2002

EVERETT -- Outside the walls of the detention center, Heather Opel could be just another teenager, talking boys (she finds actor Vin Diesel "fine-looking"), music (she's into rapper Nelly) and magazines (she devours Cosmopolitan -- "I can't live without it").

Inside, the big-eyed girl with the pretty gap-tooth grin grapples with a horrific crime that will keep her behind bars until she's in her mid-30s.

"In my room, I just sit and stare at my bricks. I'm like, 'Look what you got yourself into,'" she says, her foot nervously tapping beneath a table in the Denny Juvenile Justice Center.

Despite a regimen of anti-depressants, Opel, 14, is on edge, anxious about this afternoon's sentencing in Snohomish County Superior Court for her role in the brutal slaying of a 64-year-old man last spring.

"I'm very, very, very worried," says Opel, who was tried as an adult felon and faces a mandated minimum of 22 years. She'll be an "old lady" when she gets out, she says.

She has prepared speeches for today. She wants to publicly apologize to the victim's family.

"I really, really hope they'll accept it."

And she plans to read a poem she's written in her cell.

"Look with your heart and not your eyes/ and I believe you'll change your mind/ because you'll see what's really me," it begins.

She can't understand why people think she's bad. She's worked so hard, so long, against such odds, to be a good girl.

"People just look at me that way, and I'm just, like, Why can't they just look at the good side of me?"

(Update: Opel was sentenced today to 22 years in prison. Her lawyer plans to appeal the decision to try her as an adult, instead of a juvenile.)

'It's beyond words'

In a stipulated trial last month, Judge Linda Krese, who presides at today's sentencing, found Opel guilty of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

Opel agreed to waive her right to a jury trial to avoid a more serious charge of aggravated murder.

"All I did in this was stab (the victim) twice in the same spot on his left side of his stomach," she confessed in a written statement.

She retains the right to appeal the decision to try her as an adult, a move that could cut ostensibly more than a decade off her prison term.

It's a tough shot for an athletic middle-school girl who loved to fly over hurdles in track, drive to the hole on the basketball court and play clarinet jazz in the school band -- even if she lived in a family that moved more than 20 times in seven years, always scrambling for money.

Her former principal, Jim McNally, described her as a joy to work with.

"She was responsive, compliant, respectful in every way," McNally says. "She was always surrounded by friends.

"This was a devastating blow to us. To see someone with so much potential in such crisis -- it's beyond words."

The attack occurred in April 2001.

Authorities say Opel and four other teens were bribed by her mother, Barbara Opel, to kill her boss, 64-year-old Jerry Heimann, to get to his $41,000.

Opel's mother was working as a live-in caretaker for Heimann's elder mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's.

"We will have $41,000 just to mess around with," Heather wrote in a journal entry in March 2001. "I hope I get what I want. I want a new bike. So my mom said if I help kill Jerry, I can get one. ..."

According to court records, the mother planned the murder, recruiting teens, including Opel's new 17-year-old boyfriend, Jeffrey Grote.

Attorneys say Opel, 13 at the time, had sent Grote a love note at a local roller-skating rink, and several days later the two were involved in a sexual relationship, living together inside Heimann's house -- unbeknownst to Heimann.

On April 13, 2001, records state, Barbara Opel hid in the basement of the Everett home and called out encouragement to the teens as they beat Heimann with baseball bats -- a Louisville slugger and souvenir Mariners' bats.

When they were sure he was dead, the mother reportedly brought her two smaller children, ages 7 and 11, upstairs to help clean up the spattered blood, wrap the body in sheets, then drive to a remote site on the Tulalip reservation to dump the remains.

After stealing Heimann's money, authorities say Barbara Opel packed up the family and took off, leaving the invalid mother upstairs.

Visiting relatives found Heimann's mother, who had reportedly witnessed her son's killing, several days later, with no food and no water, eating newspaper for sustenance.

Opel said she hated abandoning the elderly woman, whom she'd helped feed and care for. "I didn't want to leave her," she says.

"I wanted her to come along with us."

All five teens have been convicted.

Opel still can't describe what happened that evening. "It's hard to explain how I felt, but I know it was a feeling I never felt before. It was like I was in some different world."

The mother, in custody at Snohomish County Jail, faces trial in February. If found guilty of aggravated murder, she could become the first woman in the state of Washington to get the death penalty.

Her younger children are in foster care.

Opel has no contact with her mother, but says her mother was no "mastermind."

"Oh no, no, no, no, no."

She describes their relationship as unusually close. "We were more like sisters, like friends, than a mother and daughter," she says. "I just felt like I could tell her anything.

"And she was always there with me whenever I went anywhere."

She says she still loves her mother.

But it's more complicated now.

"In front of the love, there is a whole bunch of hate," she says. "I know that's a strong word, but there's a whole bunch of that."

Mother and daughter

Barbara and Heather Opel's relationship is ripe for analysis, as pages of psychology reports attest.

One clinical psychologist brought in by the defense in 2001 characterized Heather Opel as an abnormally loyal and obedient child, someone who was incapable of standing up to a controlling mother.

Coaches on basketball and baseball teams say Opel, a star athlete and all-around "nice kid," sometimes broke down as her mother screamed at her from the sidelines -- although Opel still has nothing but praise for her mother's encouragement.

"I couldn't believe it," says Lane Erickson, a Verizon computer network engineer who coaches for a Boys and Girls Club ball team in Everett.

"Heather was the only girl on the boys team, and she was the best player by far. The only problem was that the mom would yell and scream at her, and Heather would start crying."

One coach testified in court that Barbara Opel was so overbearing and out of control that he made her an assistant coach so he could control her from the dugout.

Heather's father, Bill Opel, who divorced Barbara in 1990, remembers young Heather as quiet and withdrawn.

He asserts that Heather Opel's allegiance to her mother was her downfall.

"There's not a right and a wrong way: The only way Heather knows is mom's way. And Heather does not question mom," says Bill Opel, who was involved in a long battle over custody and visitation rights.

He says he finally lost track of the kids.

To Heather Opel's delight, her father finally renewed his relationship with his daughter after her arrest.

"It was a part of my heart that was missing," Opel says. "Everybody in here was like, 'Oh yeah, my dad is coming to see me, and I was thinking, 'Yeah, you're so lucky to have a dad.'"

Her 79-year-old grandmother, who is staying in a motel in Everett to be near her imprisoned daughter and granddaughter, paints a picture of a happy childhood, with a mother who loved to bake chocolate chip cookies, involving all the kids in the process and getting flour all over the house.

But the picture that emerges from court documents is considerably darker.

Allegations of abuse

Heather Opel was born to Bill and Barbara Opel on Sept. 22, 1987.

Within a year, neighbors in a Mill Creek apartment complained Barbara Opel was screaming at her baby.

One anonymous caller said "the level of violent screaming is escalating and recently one of the neighbors has heard slaps to the baby."

Child Protective Services workers visiting the apartment reported the baby was clean and no evidence of abuse found.

Two years later, the landlord called CPS to say that the mother "has been yelling at Heather since the child was 3 months old."

She said police had been called by worried neighbors.

Again, police reported the apartment was clean, the child well-fed and unbruised.

Complaints continued, and neighbors reported the children were left unsupervised.

Mutual allegations of mistreatment and abuse flew between the parents.

A psychologist described the divorce as "an active battle ground," and Barbara Opel's subsequent marriage as yet another battleground.

Heather Opel agrees her childhood was tough -- although she doesn't blame her mother. "I have some real scars," she says, "but I felt like I was really starting to pull through it."

Opel says she experimented with drugs when she was 11-12. She tried pot and Ecstasy. She also got into drinking. Her favorite was Bacardi spiced rum.

"I shouldn't have done the drugs, and I shouldn't have hung out with the people I did hang out with."

But by 13, she says she'd cleaned up.

She was an athlete. She was getting her life together.

"I sat down, and just started writing all my goals," she says. "I wrote about 100 of them."

Life inside is harsh

Heather Opel's thick brown hair is fashionably short -- a cut she borrowed from a magazine. She has draped her prison-issue orange sweatshirt loosely over her shoulders, casual and cool.

"It's like, you've got to have a little bit of style in here," she says.

Life inside can be very, very harsh she says.

"You did the crime, and you know you've got to do the time, but it's really not worth getting in trouble with the law."

She hates being in a cell all by herself.

"It drives me crazy. I want somebody to talk to, somebody I won't get bored with, somebody who will help the time pass."Center staff won't allow it because she's "dangerous." Opel holds up bunny ears on both hands to put quotes around the word.

"I'm not dangerous!" she says.

Opel -- who has shot up from 5-foot-4 to 5-foot-6 1/2, and gone from 90 pounds to 121 pounds since last spring -- plays basketball inside and works out.

She can lift 125 pounds, as the nicely defined muscles she shows off illustrate.

She hates it when friends call to tell how much fun they're having. "I'm, like, 'Don't tell me that. I don't want to know.'"

There are bright spots. Her grandmother comes to visit, rubbing her back and promising she'll fight for Opel's appeal. A priest is helping Opel study to become a Roman Catholic.

She reads -- she likes John Grisham novels. "I like books that are suspenseful, that grab you." She writes poems. She draws.

And she counts the days. Some 480 so far.

Time weighs heavy inside.

"There's a lotta, lotta, lotta time to think," says Opel.

She tries to concentrate on the future. She still wants to go to college. Maybe she'll be a veterinarian ("I like hands-on stuff"), or a lawyer ("I want to help kids in my situation").

But the past -- and the evening of April 13, 2001 -- keep coming back.

Medications help. But she still sometimes loses it, banging her hands against the wall, and crying herself to sleep.

"I'd give up my life right now for Jerry to come back, I seriously would," she says.

This life she'd give up -- the locked doors, the chains, the endless hours inside, the tears and tossing at night -- is not the one she had imagined.

Heather Opel, star athlete, had goals. A hundred goals.

"I always wanted to be famous and be in the newspaper and on TV and stuff, but not like this," she says.

"I guess my wish did come true, but it had a bad ending to it."


Murder suspect's life called chaotic

By Janet Burkitt and Diane Brooks - Seattle Times staff reporters

April 28, 2001

In the seven years he has gone without seeing his 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, Bill Opel says he has never stopped thinking about them. But he has long since given up on their mother.

Barbara Opel refused to stick to the custody agreement after she and Bill Opel divorced in 1991, he says, keeping the children from him for years. Prosecutors charged her with custodial interference for not letting her ex-husband see the children in 1997 but dropped the charge because they didn't think a jury would convict, according to court records.

Finally, Bill Opel says, he stopped trying and moved to Wenatchee with his current wife and their children.

"I couldn't chase it anymore," said Bill Opel, who was reluctant to speak about his ex-wife. "I've just been writing my child-support checks and hoping they go to a good cause.

"Guess they didn't."

Bill Opel now reads about his daughter on newspapers' Internet sites as she sits in Snohomish County's juvenile-detention center, accused along with four other teens of carrying out a bizarre murder plot allegedly masterminded by her mother.

Prosecutors say Barbara Opel, 37, goaded and bribed the teens into stabbing and beating her boss, Jerry Heimann, with baseball bats April 13. She also forced her two youngest children - Bill Opel's son and a 7-year-old daughter from a different father - to help clean up the bloody mess, according to court papers.

Barbara Opel has pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated first-degree murder in the beating death of Heimann, 64, who took her and her children into his home and gave her a job caring for his 89-year-old mother.

Opel's daughter's boyfriend, 17-year-old Jeffrey Grote, who has been charged as an adult, also pleaded not guilty to aggravated first-degree murder. The four other teens - Opel's daughter, a 14-year-old Everett girl and two Marysville boys, 13- and 15-year-old cousins - have been charged in juvenile court with first-degree murder but might be tried as adults.

People who know Barbara Opel describe her as a shrill, angry mother who enmeshed herself in her children's lives to an unhealthy - even criminal - extreme. She encouraged her 13-year-old daughter to date from an early age, they say, and even hosted a Valentine's Day party for youngsters that included beer, marijuana and sex.

Bill Opel, 40, says his former wife only sporadically held jobs and lived a chaotic life. Others who know her say she might have had good intentions as a mother, but the way she carried out the role was all wrong.

Former next-door neighbor Megan Slaker used to pray for Barbara Opel's children.

"I wanted them to feel some love," said Slaker, who lives in an Everett neighborhood where Barbara Opel rented a home in the mid-1990s. She said Opel's kids were often locked out of the house, so Slaker would let them help her do yard work.

"She just didn't want them in the house, I guess," she said. "You feel compassion for children who you don't think are getting the love and attention they need."

But Barbara Opel's sister, Shirley McGee of Spokane, said Opel is a caring, protective mother.

"She is not the type of person who would do something like this," McGee said of the murder charges. "Unless she was feeling her kids were in jeopardy."

But McGee also said she has not had too much contact with her sister over the years.

Former neighbors in three neighborhoods describe Barbara Opel as a foul-mouthed woman who constantly screamed at her children.

She grew up in Bothell, according to her ex-husband, and moved frequently. Court records show she was evicted at least three times for not paying rent.

"She was a lady I would never forget in my entire life," said Chris Perry, 25, who lived across the street from her for a couple of years. Barbara Opel had previously lived next door to Perry's best friend, and she was dismayed when the woman moved into her neighborhood.

"She was just so mean," Perry said. "Screaming at her kids all the time, all hours of the night. You would never hear her lovingly talking to her children."

The family vanished from Perry's and Slaker's neighborhood in the middle of the night, during an eviction process.

Barbara Opel and her children moved into Heimann's home late last year.

In February, she helped her kids host a Valentine's party and invited some girls to spend the night.

One 12-year-old guest said Barbara Opel let teens drink beer, smoke marijuana, use the backyard hot tub and have sex in Opel's bedroom. The girl, who attends Evergreen Middle School with Opel's daughter and the other girl accused of murder, said she didn't engage in any illicit behavior that night.

The girl's father, Mike Wassemiller, was furious when he found out weeks later what had gone on at the party. He had gone into the house and chatted with Barbara Opel when he dropped off his daughter and her best friend, to make sure the party would be safe, he said.

"I'm absolutely shocked - I'm ashamed I let my daughter spend the night there," he said. "I trusted (Opel)."

Candy Ochs, whose son was a classmate of Barbara Opel's 13-year-old daughter at Everett's View Ridge Elementary, said the woman used to say mean, derogatory things to children and pushed them into fights in the cafeteria.

Grote, the 17-year-old accused in the slaying, didn't know the Opels until early this month. Soon after meeting the 13-year-old daughter, he moved into Heimann's basement without the man's knowledge, according to prosecutors.

That's when Grote began to change, said Dianne Groves, owner of the Marysville Skate Inn, where he had skated for years.

She said Barbara Opel and the two teen girls recently came to the skating rink to see Grote, and they caused a scene by swearing and harassing her staff and customers.

"I kicked them out," Groves said. "We run a real tight ship in here."

Grote is now in the Snohomish County jail on $2 million bail; Barbara Opel is being held without bail. Her daughter and the other teens are being held in the juvenile center on $100,000 cash-only bail.

Barbara Opel's two youngest children, including Bill Opel's 11-year-old son, have been placed in protective custody.

The last time Bill Opel saw the boy, he was 4, and his older sister was a bubbly, spunky 6-year-old.

"I've always hoped they would come find me," he said of his two children. "You always see that on TV - you know, how the kids try to find their parent when they grow up. I guess that probably won't happen with my daughter."



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